What's So Funny?
In Westlake's diverting 13th John Dortmunder novel (after 2004's Watch Your Back! ), the hapless crook gets blackmailed into trying to pull off an impossible heist—stealing a gold chess set originally intended as a gift for the last czar of Russia, but picked up by some U.S. soldiers who were part of an anti-Soviet expeditionary force in 1919–1920 and now kept secure in a midtown Manhattan basement vault while various parties dispute its ownership. Dortmunder makes little progress in the book's first half, until he figures out a way to prompt an inquiry that leads to the chess set's being transported downtown—to a location that proves far from secure. As usual, Westlake provides amusing, at times dim-witted dialogue, particularly among the regulars at O.J.'s Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue, and a cast of appealing if often inept cops and robbers. Not every loose end may be tied up, but the ironic resolution will leave both series fans and newcomers satisfied. (Apr.)
Release date: 04/01/2007